Mississippi is a typical Deep South state in that its economic freedom far outstrips its personal freedom. However, its economic policies are worse than those of all its neighbors, having been bested recently by Louisiana.
Mississippians’ overall tax burden is about average nationally, but state taxes are above average, while local taxes are low. This fiscal centralization goes along with a lack of choice among local government (less than 0.4 per 100 square miles). Debt and subsidies are lower than average, but government employment is far higher than average. State and local employment is 17.7 percent of private-sector employment.
Like most southern states, Mississippi does well on land-use and labor-market freedom. In 2011–12, it also finally enacted a limited eminent domain reform. It has no minimum wage and a right-to-work law. However, it does have an E-Verify mandate. In 2011–12, a telecom deregulation bill was passed, but the state lacks statewide cable franchising. Occupational licensing is less extensive than average but increased dramatically in 2011–12. Nurses and dental hygienists enjoy little practice freedom. The state strictly regulates insurance rates, hospital construction, and pricing during disasters. Its civil liability system used to be much worse than average, but it is now actually better than average. The state reformed punitive damages and abolished joint and several liability in 2002 and 2004.
Mississippi’s criminal justice policies are notoriously awful. The state imprisons its population at a rate of two and a half standard deviations above the national average, even adjusting for its high crime rate. Drug arrest rates are very high but have actually fallen since 2008. Other victimless crime arrest rates are below average. The state asset forfeiture law is mediocre, but it doesn’t matter anyway because local law enforcement enthusiastically pursues adoptions from the Department of Justice. Cannabis law is draconian: a single marijuana offense not involving minors can receive life imprisonment, and low-level cultivation carries mandatory minimums. The “decriminalization law” is a ruse because local governments may criminalize possession, and the mostly harmless psychedelic Salvia divinorum is also banned. Gun laws are slightly above average. A stricter-than-federal minimum age for possession was put in place in 2009–10. Permitless open carry was reinstated in 2013–14, but concealed carry faces many restrictions, even though it is shall-issue. Alcohol freedom is below average. The state monopolizes liquor stores, wine direct shipping is banned, and wine and spirits are unavailable in grocery stores. Legal gambling is more open than in the average state. Educational freedom is about average. A very limited voucher law was enacted in 2011–12, but public school choice was repealed about the same time. Tobacco freedom is above average, as smoking bans leave plenty of exceptions, and cigarette taxes are not too high. The state banned same-sex marriage at year-end 2014 but should rise because of the Obergefell decision.